Sunday, September 30, 2007
Open Letter to Madam Speaker
Dear Madam Speaker, I have followed your travails in the past five weeks with keen interest and although I have been one of your more ardent critics, I must admit that you have put into the matter, a lot of energy and determination and you have shown uncommon courage. It is natural for you as a human being to stand up and defend something you have worked for all your life. To make the transition from a beauty shop to the No 4 position in the country is no easy feat. But it is also a mark of virtue to realise when you have been beaten, when the game is truly up.
Every human being should pray for three things, and you Madam should take this to heart: the hindsight to know where you are coming from, the foresight to know where you are going and the insight to know when you have gone too far. I believe Madam Speaker that you are just about to take one more step too far in the current scandal of your office's attempt to squander a whopping sum of N238 million on the renovation of the Speaker's House. Or is it a grand total of N638 million (?) - to cover that expenditure plus the renovation of the Deputy Speaker's House and the purchase of vehicles for Principal officers of the House of Representatives.
Madam, I'll like to score you highly on effort. But I am sorry, the combined effect of whatever you may have done so far has been totally negated by the Idoko panel report and the verdict of the court of public opinion. The nine-man Idoko panel presented its report a few days ago. The chief message of that report is that you have been found to be an incompetent leader. According to the Idoko panel, "due process" was not followed in the award of the renovation and furnishing contracts.
The panel pointed out that the tender for the contracts was not advertised, no bill of quantities and drawings were prepared, there was no provision for the expenditure in the 2007 budget, the companies that were given contracts are illegal entities that are unknown to the Corporate Affairs Commission. You told the panel and Nigerians that the N238 million was meant for the renovation of about eight houses in the Speaker's compound, but the panel found that the contract that was awarded was only for the Main House. You told the panel that the Clerk of the House and his team acted on their own. The panel found that you in fact gave written instructions to the Clerk to act as directed by you. The panel added that the basis for arriving at the sum of N238 million can not be established. And that the House that you want renovated was actually renovated in 2005. What this panel has done is to tell Nigerians that the No 4 Citizen of Nigeria is a liar and a lawbreaker. It is a deep and a sharp cut.
In response you and your supporters have been saying that the panel has not indicted you and that only the House can declare you guilty or not. Some people have also said that the panel has not made any recommendations because it was not given the mandate to do so. With due respect. I will like to put it to you that you have, in fact, been indicted by the Idoko panel. The legal meaning of indictment is not guilt but that you have a case to answer, in other words a prima facie case has been established against you. And looking at the proof of evidence, the case is a bad one indeed. You may argue that nobody has accused you of embezzling money, at least not yet.
But corruption is not just about taking money, the abuse of due process with the intent to manipulate the system in one's favour is also an act of corruption. Your case is worsened by the fact that everything has been conducted in the open. You were given the benefit of fair hearing and Nigerians have all been able to assess the evidence. Indeed, if the Idoko panel had sat in camera, perhaps it would have been possible for the nine members to help cover up the scam. But what the nine lawmakers have done is to protect their own integrity by placing all the cards face up. They are all looking good.
Madam Speaker, one newspaper has written that you are "close to the brink". You don't have to wait until you are pushed off the cliff. The Honourable thing to do now is to resign. With the Idoko panel report there is no other story that you can tell Nigerians. Politics is often described as the art of the possible and here in Nigeria, politicians take this literally to heart. But with the benefit of hindsight, you can easily realize that one of the bitter lessons that some of our politicians have had to learn is that certain things are impossible. Like Obasanjo's Third Term, for example.
Should you continue to stay in office as Speaker, you will create a bigger moral dilemma for yourself. You cannot sit as Speaker when the report is to be debated. To do so would amount to being a judge in your own case! If the House allows that to stand, the Nigerian public will point out the contradiction. With you as Speaker, the media will continue to haunt that House and insist on your impeachment. You will become the issue rather than the business of legislation being the focus. Staying on stubbornly and claiming that resignation means an admission of guilt is just being foolhardy.